Exercise Keeps the Psychiatrist Away

Exercise Keeps the Psychiatrist Away

written by: Dr. Jodie Skillicorn
by: Dr. Jodie Skillicorn
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I felt lazier than a slug after a night of trick or treating with eight fifth grade boys who then slept over at our house. They were already wired high on sugar, comradery, running, and the thrill of an Ohio State football victory, and then just before bedtime they started talking excitedly about what girls they liked in their grade.

All this is to say it was a very late night and I too was unable to settle into sleep. So I awoke the next morning with no desire to do anything except sit and stare at a wall. Fortunately my dog whined and begged to go on his morning run, so I mustered together enough energy to put on a coat and head out the door. The cool air felt invigorating as the dog took off at a run, pulling me along behind him. Within minutes my tired body started to feel more energized and alive despite the lack of sleep. This is the power of fresh air and exercise.

A recent research trial demonstrates that exercise can not only boost energy and mood temporarily, but if done for as little as one hour weekly it can reduce the risk of future depressive episodes by 44%! Although multiple studies have suggested that lack of physical activity correlates with increased risk of depression, the most recent study about to be published in the The American Journal of Psychiatry, is the largest, most comprehensive population based study conducted on the issue. It involved literally the majority of the population of a county in Norway, including nearly 75,000 participants who were followed for 9 to 13 years. The results showed that if the entire population had been physically active for at least an hour a week, regardless of intensity of the exercise, that 12% of depressive episodes could have been prevented. This does not even account for the additional physical benefits of which we are all aware, including improved heart health, improved bone density and muscle strength, decreased risk of diabetes and possibly even increased longevity and decreased risk of some cancers.

So let's think about the potential here. More than 16 million Americans are affected by at least one major depressive episode every year. That means that one hour of exercise a week could potentially prevent nearly two million episodes of depression in this country annually. When I bring up exercise with my patients I have those who are excited at the possibility that exercise alone could keep them off medication and immediately start taking a class or setting aside time for a daily walk. The more common response is feeling completely overwhelmed by one more thing they should be doing but have no energy or motivation to pursue – more like me in my fatigued slug mode.

Yet one hour a week breaks down into less than 9 minutes a day! Unlike the many YouTube videos promising abs of steel in 6 minutes or less, that are nothing but misleading marketing induced fantasy, this 9 minutes has solid evidence behind it. The key here is that the intensity and type of movement don't seem to matter just that you ARE moving, so pick activities you enjoy. You can walk, jog, bike, skate, yoga, Zumba or just run around and play with your kids or someone else's kids! You can do strength training or aerobics or alternate between them. You can search YouTube for a virtually endless list of possible short workouts targeting every part of the body and physiology. You can move indoors or outdoors, alone or with others. You can exercise here or there, just nine minutes a day anywhere. The goal is simply to make movement a part of your daily life and in the process improve your mood, health and vitality.